Duke has had a nightmare of a 2021 college basketball season. The Blue Devils finished the shortened regular season with an uncharacteristic 11-11 record, which placed them on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament field.
But even after Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s worst regular season in more than 25 years, Duke was playing its best basketball of the year in the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils needed to win three more games to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, but they were just brutally stopped in their tracks by COVID-19.
Duke just suffered a crippling COVID-19 blow
Just as Duke was starting to hit its stride at the perfect time, the Blue Devils suffered a possible season-ending blow due to COVID-19.
On Thursday morning, just hours before Duke was scheduled to tip off against Florida State in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, Jeff Goodman of Stadium reported someone in the program tested positive for the coronavirus. Because of the positive test, Duke will be eliminated from the conference tournament, and Florida State will automatically advance.
Duke isn’t the only college program that’s been hit hard by COVID-19 this season, and it most likely won’t be the last.
Duke was just heating up at the right time
Just a few weeks ago, the Blue Devils looked like a team that was already dead in the water. Duke started the season a disappointing 8-8, and matters were only made worse when star forward Jalen Johnson opted out of the rest of the season to focus on the NBA draft.
In mid-February, Coach K’s crew seemed to be giving up on the season. But they started to show some fight down the backstretch of the schedule, and even though they lost three straight games to finish the year, Duke was playing hard and looking like a team that was ready to fight for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
It wasn’t going to be easy, though. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi predicted the Blue Devils had to win the ACC Tournament in order to punch their ticket to the Big Dance. Duke rattled off two impressive wins to start its tournament run, and the team was brimming with confidence heading into the quarterfinals against Florida State.
But unfortunately for Duke, the team’s positive COVID-19 test has knocked them out of the ACC Tournament. Now, the Blue Devils’ fate is in the committee’s hands.
Can Duke still make the NCAA Tournament?
So, now that Duke’s resume is complete, is it possible the Blue Devils can sneak into the NCAA Tournament? In short, probably not.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Duke in his Next Four Out after the Blue Devils beat Louisville on Wednesday night, meaning the Blue Devils would need to hop at least four teams to score an at-large bid. With no more chances left to pick up quality wins, Duke will most likely be excluded from March Madness for the first time since 1995.
The weirdest college basketball season in history is about to get even weirder with no Duke in the NCAA Tournament bracket.